Mike Hollenbeck, AIFD met Joe Vega at an AIFD symposium nearly four years ago. Today, they sit down on this episode of Flower Shop Secrets to discuss the importance of education for florists in the industry, finding and keeping good employees, and how local florists need to stick together to beat the real competition. Check out the conversation and learn something new from Mike’s insider tips.
Mike Hollenbeck was inducted into The American Institute of Floral Design in 2006 and has been working in the floral industry for about thirty years,– even if it feels like just yesterday. He currently runs his shop Floral Artistry in Lewiston, Idaho by understanding the power of creativity for profitability and prioritizing education as a designer.
We know what our competition is Joe and that’s, that’s those ordered gatherers and, and in those operators out there who are deceiving our consumers, not not the other flower shops in the town. We are in this as a team as florist, it is a family and family takes care of family. And with that everybody succeeds…
Mike Hollenbeck 0:00
We know what our competition is Joe
and that’s, that’s those ordered gatherers and, and in those operators out there who are deceiving our consumers, not not the other flower shops in the town. We are we are in this as a team as florist, it is a family and and family takes care of family. And with that everybody succeeds.
Joe Vega 0:22
So, the big question is this. How can small business owners like us in the flow industry, overcome the greed of order gathers and bypass the deceitful games played by wire services? How do we market sell and deliver flowers online, so we may break free from these antiquated practices and earn our freedom. Those are some of the questions we will answer on this podcast. I’m Joel Vega. Welcome to flower shop secrets streaming now on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google and more. What’s up everybody? This is Joe Vega and welcome to another flower shop secret podcast. Today we have Mike Hollenbeck from floral artistry in Lewiston, Idaho, is how you pronounce that Mike
Mike Hollenbeck 1:07
is located in Idaho. Yeah, I got that. After the famous Lewis and Clark, we’re actually in an alley. Loosen and Clarkson, Washington right on the border. We’ll have to two cities and then a lot of rural communities around us. Okay, perfect.
Joe Vega 1:25
So how much revenue did your flower shop made last year?
Mike Hollenbeck 1:30
Well, last year was a oh my gosh, only 20. We had a flower shop close in the valley, which impacted us greatly. And then of course, COVID. And we were on about a 50% increase. And then COVID hit, and then we thought we’re gonna drop. And then we found out that COVID effect for mothers and Easter was amazing. So we actually increased up to about 350 last year. Wow. So and in the maze, the most amazing thing, Joe? Almost 40 50% of that now is coming in online. That’s incredible. Right. And it’s growing. More and more volume is coming across on the web.
Joe Vega 2:17
Yeah, I mean, it definitely had an effect on walkins. Right, people are in or, you know, they don’t feel safe, especially back then. Now it feels a little safe. Just wear a mask. You’re good. But before it was like, wait, no, I’m gonna stay home and be safe. So I’m, I can use my phone my computer. That’s that’s a lot better. You know, it’s pretty scary times. You know,
Mike Hollenbeck 2:33
it is not understated. It’s been an adventure. I think that’s sort of a reason we’re doing this podcast is, is we have to share information from our industry as a florist, to other florists to know if we’re doing the right things, I think a thread to this when you asked me about what do I want to talk about? I think a common thread today is going to be education, whether it be education, about your business, about your product, about your customers about your sales, I think it’s all gonna fall under that heading of education. In you providing these these podcasts is one way of doing that.
Joe Vega 3:21
Absolutely. So but before we get to that, can you just give us a little bit of a story in terms of how did you get started in the floor industry? Because I know you’ve been around for a while. So how did you get started?
Mike Hollenbeck 3:32
No, I just started last week. It seems like it go. Oh my gosh, yeah. For all you listeners, they sent out this questionnaire and we filled these out. And I started thinking about that. And I’m going as it been 30 years. It has been in it seems like last week, right? So the important thing is Time flies so fast in this industry. It seems like I can’t I can remember orders from 2030 years ago and it seems like yesterday. But But I actually got started out of high school. I was got a part time job delivering flowers. And sort of fun to see the reaction of people. The smiles the the response. It was fun hustling in and out. I was sweeping the back of the flower shop I was processing flowers. Pretty soon I started answering the phone and learning how to become a salesperson. And then I started getting they’d get inventory to gift shops. So I started doing displays up front and window displays. And then one day that designer that we had working for she literally went on a walk about Australia literally got a jet and went to Australia on a walkabout and we didn’t have a designer. Well. My boss at the time, Gary, he asked Got a couple of people. I mean, they worked out for a while, and I was doing everything else chop except for putting flowers into the race. And, and I asked him to show me some tricks to teach me again, and, and I said, I’ll punch out when I get done with deliveries, show me some things and I’ll start practicing. In about two weeks later, he helped me stay punched in. So that’s how he started the journey of becoming a becoming a florist.
Joe Vega 5:28
So right out of high school, you were in high school, you got a part time job during the summer and you fell in love with it.
Mike Hollenbeck 5:33
I did, then join the Marine Corps when college is perfect part time job. So I was able to, you know, morning deliveries, go to my morning classes, come back, run the midday deliveries, pick up another class or lab, compact and finish the other deliveries. Those were the days. But I’m actually and then 30 years ago, I opened up floral artistry. We started in basically a duplex and I was doing custom orders for weddings. And then I was able to open up a small 300 square foot retail location in downtown Boston. And wow, yeah, 31 years ago, that’s Mother’s Day.
Joe Vega 6:15
It doesn’t seem like it does it? Oh,
Mike Hollenbeck 6:16
Joe Vega 7:43
Yeah, that’s one of the one of the biggest challenges right now for flower shops is attracting good employees or attracting talented employees. Do you do you see high school or college temporary work being a being a solution to that to that problem?
Mike Hollenbeck 7:59
I do. Again, right now, we I have always employed high school students, whenever I can. I think it’s an important part of their education to get the workforce. But I hope we can continue doing that. You want to make this political. But if if the government changes the minimum wage that’s going to prohibit A lot of us brick and mortar flower shops from that opportunity of hiring young, young people because We can’t pay them 15 bucks an hour when they don’t know anything. So I hope that you know, the florists that are listening to this understand, yes, we want to pay workable wage. But there also has to be a way of doing that. And, and want to share this with you. I found a I don’t know what the proper word is. But it’s through the United States job search. And it’s an apprentice program. So what I started doing is I have my employees and they’re registered as a state of Idaho practice to become a flower shops. And so we’re training and after 2000 hours, to become a dirty person if she accomplishes all of the prerequisites set up by that by the United States government job fair. And that is we’re just getting starting that just starting implemented that. So I’m really really happy because I think the European model of having the younger people train in the industry, and then they become again, journeyman, and then masters at their craft. Because this is really a skill. We know that you just can’t jump into it. You have to learn all of the all of the all of the techniques and the principles and elements to be a proper design and it just doesn’t come overnight. It takes time. So So this apprentice program We’re really looking forward to. And I think it will also go well with our schools. I know as a member aifd I’m always pushing education and our accredited schools like floral design Institute in Portland, down in Miami, we’ve got Ruben and their school down, there’s so many different schools that my friends have. And this is one way of taking it on the job experience has I learned, and then you add on those classes that we go to, that will help them become a designer, they choose to. Also it opens up the doors in the industry, as a grower, as a chemist, as oh my gosh, think about the new Florida incarnations that we have. We have genetic engineering in Florida every now and there. There are so many different jobs that we can do. And and I am proud to be part of aifd. And we are really involved with the FFA, parks in Washington, we have an FFA floral design class that I volunteer and go and teach and, and we have him come over and we’ve had a couple of employees from that program. So yes, encourage all of our listeners, Rhys, Tiger, reach out into your high schools look for that FFA program. There are a lot of part time employees out there. Another thing that our school has your gel set up opened up a bit can is, is they have a outreach program for students that aren’t in the regular curriculum. And they come in on the job experience. And maybe their ability abilities are different than ours. So we employ them to come down. And they help us by learning how to do a job at trade. So they’re doing some washing the buckets, and they’re putting away flowers, and they’re washing the windows. And they’re taking the greens and sticking into Oasis and learning how to pre green. And we even taught some of the special students how to do roses in a vase, oh my gosh, for two hours three times a week. And then valuable process. And it’s a great tie into the community and to help these young students get out into the world and find something that they like to do or capable of doing.
Joe Vega 12:26
That sounds fantastic. You know, you keep going back to education. And I think you’re 100% correct. It’s all about, you know, having a growth mindset and keeping that education going. As a floor designer, what is the importance of keeping up with education? Is education a priority? And how would a florists do this?
Mike Hollenbeck 12:43
I think so education should be number one on any florists. I, I shared this on our on our inner circle yesterday in our Valley, when I first opened, we had seven brick and mortar flower shops. And I remember going to some of our weekend education programs that were sponsored by Teleflora, and some of the other wire services. And even if he we would pull up and there’d be a panel of three designers. And they would do all these wonderful bouquets. And we would be able to ask questions and learn how to do those things. But there was always our shop, and maybe one other shop would go to that. And then we would come back and I would go to a funeral service. And I’d see the other designers work and the thing never changed. They never tried to keep up with the times. And I’m of the thing, if you if you’re not growing, you’re dying. And growing translates into educating yourself and learning the new techniques and what are the trends. Because if you’re not keeping up, we’re gonna get left, it’d be like Dell right now you’re trying to do our webpage on on the old dial up modem even not possible. We have to be looking at those, those new solutions. And we were just talking about this the other day, just because it’s the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean we should still be doing. It’s a new day. We and I hate to use that pun, the new normal, but every day is a new normal and if we don’t look at it that way. There’s going to be one shop left in the salad. Right now we went from seven to two. And I think part of that bill was that they never implemented those changes. They never took a risk to show something. And and that’s what people want to see. They don’t want to go into a flower shop and see something they’ve seen 100 million times. They want to see something creative and different. That’s where the growing and that the other jobs in this industry are coming from All of the new colors, all the new varieties, all the new, long lasting roses that we have, are because of education, and our younger students getting into this industry.
Joe Vega 15:11
So you you mentioned 72, you mean there were seven flower shops in your area in your town. And now there’s only 202
Mike Hollenbeck 15:17
brick and mortar flower shops. And then of course, we got an Albertsons, which is a local grocery store, a rose, ours and a Costco, and most of our viewers are going to know, and I’m not going to grocery store flowers. There are a lot of great flower designers that work in grocery stores. I okay, if that’s a trend, what can we learn from that? So you just can’t knock it have a look at it in its effect? Is that my competition? Not really. We know what our competition is going. That’s, that’s those ordered gathers. And, and in those operators out there who are deceiving our consumers, not not the other flower shops in the town,
Joe Vega 16:03
man, you have no idea how much I want other florists to have that mindset that you just had, that you just had right now, I love that because it’s, you know, I can say that till the cows come home, but you know, it doesn’t stick a lot of times, and that is, you know, maybe they hear it from you from other florist and they’re still believing it and that is the, you know, the guy down the street from you, the guy across the street from you in today’s world. It’s not truly a competitor, competitor or online. Those are the battle is me. Yep,
Mike Hollenbeck 16:33
absolutely, Joe. And we’ve got a good relationship with our with our other flower shop here. If she needs something, and I have it, I’ll let her roll it if I need something I call her up. Because Wow, she has people that like her design, and design, his art is subjective. That’s good. But people like my designs, too, we will have enough of enough of the key has to keep those customers coming to us as a professional. And I think the first thing is, is I want to share with all of the people listening is you are a florist, you are a professional, are thinking of yourself that way, and start paying yourself that way. I was reading a thread on on one of the Forex Facebook posts today. And we wanted to take a wedding on a holiday. And it’s always been a family holiday. And and they were they were pulled like do I take time away from my family? Do I Do I even take this wedding. And I don’t do a lot of posts on that. And this has its ties into right what we’re talking about here, charge what it’s worth, have anybody out there tried to call a plumber, on the Fourth of July. If your toilets are backed up, and you have to have a plumber come and fix it, you know, you’re gonna get a three times Labor Rate, at least. So just pay yourself or say you’re busy, it’s okay. But if you’re going to do it, make sure you pay yourself as a professional, make sure you’re getting those labor charges, but giving your art away. Because if we keep doing that, this brick and mortar is going to be swallowed by the box stores. And we saw this 30 years ago, when they started bringing flowers into the grocery stores. And the other mass marketers saw. Okay, well, we can even cut out the grocery stores, we can do mail order. And that’s why we have the order gatherers and nail flower delivery people because they saw this market. So we have to give them something they cannot get from that. And that’s our creativity which goes back to education. And how do we make it better? How do we make it more unique?
Joe Vega 18:52
Absolutely. It’s a you can’t be afraid to charge what you think your artists worth. Right? So you you if you if especially during a time Timing is everything like you said if you’re not calling a plumber, any anybody during the Fourth of July and expect the same rates, just like hotels, right? They charge a lot more money depending on you know, the time of the great example. That’s a really good example.
Mike Hollenbeck 19:16
And it changes it’s different for every shop in every area. But don’t just give it away. I mean, if I’m booking a day, and it’s on a it’s on a weekend, especially for Fourth of July when I’m usually booked to go to symposium for a if he you know it needs to be a pretty big size wedding and to keep me here because that’s important to me. So I make that choice. And that’s what every individual business owner can do. But I just think you can sleep at night and know you’re making the right decision. Because I always say find something you don’t want to sell price it high enough that if you sell it you’re really not that upset because you get the money back for it. You gotta find that everybody has their own their own own spot for that
Joe Vega 20:04
sounds like you’re you’re you’re really involved in the floor community, you do a lot of shows a lot educational how, how has the pandemic affected that side of the, of the floor industry for you?
Mike Hollenbeck 20:18
Oh, gosh, I, I feel like I’m in a box, chained to my store, which is not bad. But yeah, we’ve had several conferences canceled, we’ve had our wolf is, is we were planning to go to that in Green Bay last year, and this year, and of course symposium in Chicago has been has been cancelled, a lot of our trade shows at the floral wholesale houses have been been canceled. So again, it’s, it’s a lot harder. And you have to try even harder to push yourself. And, and I think with the webcasts, like you’re doing the podcast, and some of the competitions that aifd is coming out, and a lot of my friends and teachers are doing their own private little videos that they’re sharing on Facebook, this industry has, has really sort of mirrored another industry. And I think that’s the music and entertainment industry. Because if you think of artists that give of themselves that gift, at voice, or if they’re playing an instrument, light, I haven’t been to a live show in two years, it’s the same thing about the flowers, I haven’t been to a live flower program in two years. Because of the social distancing, and all of all of the things we have to be careful of, and, and I just cannot wait to get back into that. That’s the big, big thing that I think has hurt us. And, and we’re gonna see a big push as soon as we can get started getting back together. But it’s almost like a pause, I can’t wait to see what comes out of this. Because in talking to some of my musician, friends, they, they either either succeed or you fail, you’re thinking to put your time into it. And the ones that have put their time into it, have come up with some immediate, amazing creative processes. And some of the new material coming out is just awe inspiring. And the ones that don’t disappear into the into the darkness. So it really becomes a challenge to each of the designers. What do you want to do with your life, you want to get better than put time in and make yourself better challenge yourself come up with new, profitable ways to enjoy your hobby, which is paying you as we are not hobbyist as we have some hobbyists out there. But I always say I remember a program and a friend Tim Farrell, if he asked the audience, what’s the definition of a professional florists? I’m going to ask the viewers out there just for a second think about what what do you define as a professional for us. And we got lots of answers, that comes down to displaying permanent and natural botanical foliages in an artistic manner, or a profit. You can’t forget that last part. Because if it’s not for profit, and we are just obvious. So challenge yourself again to to make sure that it is a profession, if that’s what you’re trying to do. And in look at your look at everything that encapsulates into that. And just to bring it back in. So we’re talking is because this industry is changing with COVID. And even before that, I think COVID has just put this on speed burners like lightspeed about internet. And thank goodness we met three and a half, four years ago at aifd symposium at a trade fair in education. I was impressed with your product. And is good decision because lovingly is like you said, the fastest web page out there that we know of right? Yes, absolutely. And that that I’m going to let you go on from there because that’s what has enabled me to market our shop differently and I think where our successes are going, we are now putting a lot more time into our webpage display. As as much as I do my show showroom display, making sure I get new pictures on making trend checking prices, making sure that the pictures on there represent something that we have available in your webpage allows me to customize that for my area. And I think for anybody listening I think lovingly is a great way to do that because very quickly I can go in and Add adding a new balloon of charge, change the price as made maybe the pricing recipe. Whoever did it get it in in New York City. And it’s different here. So I can change that price really quick.
Mike Hollenbeck 25:15
That myself, our average order, Joe is almost almost up to $100. How does that feel? Easy?
Joe Vega 25:23
How does that feel?
Mike Hollenbeck 25:25
Someone said work smarter. Not harder. I’m all in. I’ll do I’ll do. I’ll do 50 $100 orders before. I want to do $150 orders. Absolutely. Hey, I got a story. Joe. I know we’re running short. I wanted to give you a little story because that sort of ties in about about this. One of the questions you asked Do I have any stories about the floral industry that really stay on the top of my mind in this happen when Father’s Day, not even Mother’s Day this happened Father’s Day. We had a lady call up and she wanted to send a apple pie in balloon store dad. So apple pies on the floors? Really? We try not to say no, absolutely. We can do that for you. I know like pick up an apple pie and I have balloons. And so we took the order. I charged her like $15 to go pick out 30 bucks. Order. And the delivery driver is going since I have a pie in a balloon. Where’s the flowers in the delivery guys? He was a gruff, gruff, bald headed guy like and he’s like, oh, what are we gonna deliver flowers? I don’t deliver. Deliver flowers. Like, just just do a bill. It’s gonna be okay. So Bill went to the door since this trailer and knock on the door. dogs barking. He hears his gruff voice in his her mind. Who the hell is it? as well he goes, this is from floral artistry. I have a delivery as well. Come on in bring it in. Well, oh, locked in gentleman’s of that. And he is disabled. He sat in his chair of the work took his legs. And and he sat in there with the bear and watching some TV and rough man goes. What the hell is that? Yes. Well, some pie in the blue saying Happy Father’s Day. Well, who’s that from? Well, is the card right here? Let’s open it up. So we’ll open up the card and read it and said Happy Father’s Day love your daughter of love law. Silence. Literally silence, Bill said. He started coming down his eyes. And he started getting doped up. Finally, he said, I haven’t heard from my daughter in 25 years. Wow, it goes. Here’s the phone sounds like a good time for at&t. He picked up the phone, gave it to the gentleman and he called his daughter. I think that is one of the best stories I have about how we as florist, even from a designer all the way to our delivery.
Joe Vega 28:22
people’s lives. Mike, that story literally just gave me chills. Well, that’s a wonderful, that’s a that’s a beautiful story. When did that happen?
Mike Hollenbeck 28:31
It happened about 1010 years ago, 10 years ago, and it stuck with me, you of what we do. Right? We can’t forget that this is somebody feeling. It’s okay, we’re in a hurry, but it still matters. And if we can hang on to that, as an industry, we’re going to be okay. It made me realize that, that as a florist, we get tied up in in our everyday busy lives of washing buckets and, and you know, dealing with, oh, my flowers were frozen, we had to replace and there’s a lot of negatives. We have to keep reminding ourselves why did we get into this and in is to touch people’s lives. We we change people’s lives, one flower at a time. And we have the research to show that and and anytime. That’s why I guess we you know take it back. Why the story came up is because the order gatherers are not they don’t have that. It’s a money as a commodity. Us brick and mortar real florists. We understand that. And, and we are the people that can convey that to our, to our to our client base into our customers.
Joe Vega 29:48
You know, that story just showcases the fact that you you’re more than just florist right? Not just to say you’re just florists but the fact that you were able to deliver an apple pie in a balloon You made a grown man cry out of happiness. I mean, that’s a beautiful story. After this, I’m gonna I’m gonna, the first thing I’m gonna do is I’m gonna go tell my wife that story. That’s how wonderful that story is.
Mike Hollenbeck 30:11
I love I’m glad I could share that, though. I’m glad I could share that. I’ll tell one more funny story. Back in the beginning, you asked me how I got started. So how did I become a designer, I always joke that I started delivering, and when bouquets would tip over in the pan, I would fix them. So I didn’t want to bring them back, I’d get in trouble. I was so petrified, I delivered a rose in a vase. And somehow the head broke off. And I’m thinking, Oh, god, I’m gonna get in trouble. My first day, I broke a rose, I’m gonna get fired on my birthday. So back in the day, we had those little straight pins, that you we put the pins on the big Oh, that was on the rows. So I took a straight pin, and I put rows back together. I delivered it. I’m thinking, I solved the problem. A map next day I come in, that’s what standing on the table was tilted over. I will love my boss at the time. He didn’t fire me. He he identified the fact that I solved the problem, probably not the best way. But I solved the problem. He said next time of course, bring it back, we’ll replace it. This happens occasionally. This is back 30 years ago when when roses weren’t as strong as they are now. And, but but to share with people as we’re training our employees. Just this just because it’s not the way that you would do it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I think we need to keep our eyes open. Because the younger designers that are getting into the industry, they are looking at things totally different because of how they are getting bombarded with media. At one year old. They’re doing things that we didn’t do tell our teams in with computers. So look at things with a fresh eye. Don’t be afraid to try it. And always not do it. But right fear of not trying is going to limit your ability to succeed.
Joe Vega 32:21
Yeah, you got to try. You know, I do have to ask you one last question, though. How has your website been instrumental and improving your bottom line?
Mike Hollenbeck 32:30
Oh, gosh, I just did the analytics. And like I said, we are up over every month, through last month, almost already the fifth 50% over the previous year on web orders. Valentine’s Day, I know we have the Sunday hangover. It was trending a little lower. But today, we’re up. Yesterday we were up. Tomorrow we’re up. So by the end of the month, I’m not going to be surprised if we’re not up again. Even with the Sunday, Presidents Day long weekend of the Valentine’s Day, it just looks more spread out. We didn’t see that big bang. What I’m seeing though, is that the the COVID effect that the webpage is is with without it, we would not have survived the shutdowns. It’s just no way the volume that it does in the army to have to pay employees to answer the phone and to help you. I mean, he does it it takes minimal labor to process that order. So you know that that’s why you know people are going wises it’s not expensive. Look at what the webpage costs, you compare that to your payroll. Right? You’re going to come out ahead. utilizing your your your POS utilizing those those features. Oh my gosh, it it just wouldn’t do 15 minutes a day on the web page. Add a few things as your balloons as your candy. Put those add ons on it increases the bottom line the tips, oh my gosh, you implemented the tips. We’re getting driver tips and chop helps more than ever. I had a coffee shop in the store a couple three years ago. And they would always tip the espresso but they would never dip the florist. So at the bottom of the teeth I put gratuities are welcome. That’s what we started getting tips. Right. And that’s little little extras that we can we can give back to our employees and input towards Christmas and in parties and food and lunches and help our employees get a little bit extra say hey, thanks. So great job on that, Joe. I’m looking forward to next year and the changes and the upgrades. I’m excited. We definitely have some cool upgrades coming up, so
Joe Vega 35:03
stay tuned for that. Awesome. So Mike Hollenbeck from Florida artistry in Lewiston, Idaho. Thank you so much for joining me, Mike.
Mike Hollenbeck 35:12
You bet. Joe look forward to talking with you again.
Joe Vega 35:15
Hey, Mike, where can they find you online? What’s your, your website and your social media handles?
Mike Hollenbeck 35:21
Oh, thank you. floral artistry.com is our web page. And my name I call him email@example.com is my is my you can email me with any questions? me on Facebook. I call him back. aifd friend me if you’re out there any questions? I am an open book. If you want to call me send me a private message about anything we’ve talked about. I will be more than happy to help you. We are we are in this as a team as for us. And that’s one of the things I love about the lovingly and one of the terms you lovingly circle because it is a family and and family takes care of family and in with that everybody succeeds. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much, Mike. You’re welcome. Thank you.
Joe Vega 36:07
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